Brooklyn quartet Parquet Courts harness their collective voice on Wide Awake!, while Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks reveal a little more of themselves on Sparkle Hard, and OOOOO & Islamiq Grrrls join forces for the intoxicating Faminine Mystique. These, plus GAS and Low Cut Connie in this week’s notable new releases.
And in case you missed it, read our review of Courtney Barnett’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, also out today, right here.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!
Desperate times call for unified measures, and on Parquet Courts’ exuberant sixth studio album, Wide Awake!, the Brooklyn quartet uses a collective voice to directly address police violence, global warming, racism, and nihilism. On “Violence,” Andrew Savage barely finishes yelling lines like “This is why we cannot afford to close an open casket” before the chorus arrives and the band joins in with “Violence is daily life.” The second half, despite being full of hooks, doesn’t stick quite as much as the first. Though tongue-in-cheek, Remain In Light riff “Wide Awake” still comes off as a little silly—four white dudes announcing just how woke they are—even while its syncopated percussion and grooving bass make it undeniably danceable. Recognizable in fleeting glances—a wobbly guitar tremolo here, a midnight moodiness there—producer Danger Mouse assists the band in trying on such new sounds. Moving through righteous anger to introspection and eventually melancholic hope (as in closer “Tenderness,” which has a wonderful “This Will Be Our Year” vibe), Wide Awake! is a full arc of an album, one that captures both Parquet Courts’ usual keyed-up exasperation and their new, hard-earned optimism.
RIYL: Other Parquet Courts. Democratic socialism. Manifestos you can dance to.
Start here: Parquet Courts have never met a tempo change they didn’t like, and “Total Football” and “Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience” show their punk-rock agility coupled with their more complex songcraft. And for what it’s worth, the latter’s gonna be a scorcher live. [Laura Adamczyk]
Low Cut Connie, Dirty Pictures (Part 2)
On Dirty Pictures (Part 2), ragged soul-rockers Low Cut Connie harness their live energy within crisp songwriting that’s reverent (but not slavish) toward decades of popular music: gritty honky tonk (“All These Kids Are Way Too High”), gospel-driven rock (“Every Time You Turn Around”), and boogie-woogie blues (the Rolling Stones-esque “Desegregation”). Yet the Philadelphia band’s keen sense of dynamics, as well as deceptively simple lyrics that hint at greater truths, elevate Part 2. On the surface, “Hollywood” is an ascetic acoustic number pleading for kindness from the titular city and its denizens—though dig a little deeper, and it’s easy to extrapolate how the lyrics might function as a metaphor for fame or success. Dirty Pictures (Part 2) is an album for all occasions: whiskey-fueled dance parties in dark bars, heartbroken late-night sobfests, and introspective moments pondering life’s vicissitudes.
RIYL: Pre-1960s rock ’n’ roll. The entire continuum of Philadelphia soul. The Rolling Stones between Beggars Banquet and Exile On Main St. Early E Street Band live gigs.
Start here: “Oh Suzanne,” a stomping, piano-to-the-front barnburner with blazing saxophones that captures the frustration of navigating a dissolving relationship. [Annie Zaleski]
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There is a “GAS thing”: monochromatic picture of a forest on the cover, no track names (just “[Album Title] + [Number],” and then a fog of swooning, pulsing ambient music stretching for an hour or so therein. The saga seemed to be complete with 2000’s effervescent Pop, until last year’s pitch-black Narkopop announced the return of Wolfgang Voigt’s signature project, 17 years later. Rausch picks up right where Narkopop left off. The new effort—pointedly intended to be listened to in a single sitting—finds a pulse early on that almost never ceases, with Voigt filtering in guitar plucks that hit like wind chimes. Narkopop’s cloud of uneasy brass and strings seethes in and out throughout; the longest track, “Rausch 3,” hits a stride that could almost be described as funky, with languorous synthesizers swirling overheard. GAS records are pointedly unflashy, but there’s little else out there that does what they do as well. Voigt could put out one per year or one every 17 years, and they’d all still be essential listening, assuming you’re into the “GAS thing.”
RIYL: Tim Hecker. Angelo Badalamenti. Huerco S. Hallucinatory walks through the German countryside.
Start here: The album is really, really supposed to be taken as a whole piece, but why not hop in at the aforementioned “Rausch 3,” which, over the course of 14 minutes, roughly simulates the experience of being digested by a whale. [Clayton Purdom]
OOOOO & Islamiq Grrrls, Faminine Mystique
OOOOO (the unfriendly moniker of electronic producer Christopher Dexter Greenspan) and the German-born Muslim musician known only as Islamiq Grrrls both occupy the same hazy, forlorn headspace. Greenspan’s cavernous trap beats and blurry synths got him tagged into the fleeting subgenre “witch house,” but songs like 2010’s “Hearts” also evoked Islamiq Grrrls’ self-described “sad disco” in their dreamy, Donna-Summer-at-half-speed smears. Faminine Mystique finds them navigating those lovelorn, late-night feelings together, even when taking individual approaches. Greenspan’s solo tracks bring witch house’s roots in (and influence on) hip-hop full circle by drowning in watery, Auto-Tuned vocals, suggesting Travis Scott in a 4 a.m. codeine fugue. On “Yr Love” and “You Don’t Love Me,” Islamiq Grrrls floats her sleeping beauty of a voice—reminiscent of Kedr Livanskiy or Chromatics’ Ruth Radelet—over somber techno-pop. Promisingly, their true duets “All Of Me” and “The Stranger” offer the album’s best moments, bringing in bursts of twangy spy guitar for a vintage Portishead vibe. There are more dynamics in sound (including some half-serious ’80s power ballad guitar solos and free-jazz sax) than there are in mood, but it’s an often-intoxicating one to wallow in.
RIYL: The drunk and self-pitying side of Drake, Future, et al. Dummy-era Portishead. 808s And Heartbreak. Late nights and cough syrup. Cigarettes and silence.
Start here: “Yr Love” is the album’s grabbiest, but “All Of Me” is most representative of the duo’s combined strengths in its hypnotic, haunted-trip-hop grooves. The lyric “I wish that you would call me and say that you want me / ’Cause my life is really sad right now” serves as a thesis statement for the overall tone. [Sean O’Neal]
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Sparkle Hard
Over Stephen Malkmus’ career, the slacker-rock guitar-slinger has most often been described as “cryptic.” Godspeed to those seeking to interpret exactly what he means with his fractured phrases—with some tunes, you might as well be dissecting Mulholland Drive. Sparkle Hard, his seventh album with The Jicks, doesn’t ditch that mystery completely, but it’s surprisingly tender and open at times. “Future Suite” bounces along with noodling that recalls the Dead, as Malkmus urges, “Be a song of elation.” The fuzzy “Bike Lane” takes on the death of Freddie Gray, while “Solid Silk” sweetly evokes making out under a prairie moon. Sonically, it’s economical even in the wildness typical of his songwriting—dreamy strings, country twang, guitar freak-outs, and Auto-Tuned vocals all stride comfortably aside each other, never overstaying their welcome. Sparkle Hard is Malkmus at his most compelling: balancing his experimental whims while revealing pieces of his arcane heart.
RIYL: Pavement. Tasteful guitar noodling. Getting high in a responsible way.
Start here: There are more striking moments on Sparkle Hard, but “Middle America” and its poppy, kicked-back sway winds with such an easy gait that it feels like getting lost in a daydream. It showcases Malkmus’ breezy gift for melody, bright and unadorned. [Matt Williams]
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